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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1321

Research Infrastructure

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. I refer to an open letter to the Prime Minister from the National Research Alliance regarding the government's failure to fund NCRIS in 2015-16. Can the minister confirm that NCRIS had 21 months of secure funding when the Abbott government was elected? Can the minister confirm that the government has committed billions of dollars in new spending since the May budget but refuses to deliver $150 million for NCRIS that is already in the forward estimates? Why is research infrastructure such a low priority for this government?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:00): Can I just remind the Senate that this question comes from the minister who had in his title 'research' and set about cutting research funding in this nation like no minister before him. But, in relation to NCRIS, can I remind him that Labor defunded NCRIS. They left no money in the forward estimates beyond 30 June 2015.

Senator Kim Carr: That is just not true.

Senator ABETZ: That is true, Senator Carr, and I would invite you to correct the record. This funding cliff meant that NCRIS would cease to exist on 30 June 2015. That is Labor's legacy in this space. However, the Abbott coalition government has provided $150 million—money Labor did not provide—for 2015-16. The review of infrastructure needs recommended by the Commission of Audit, which stressed the importance of research infrastructure, is underway, chaired by Philip Marcus Clark. Needless to say, they do want NCRIS to continue. The funding was an integral part of the higher education reform package announced in the 2014 budget. The funds for NCRIS only exist because of savings elsewhere in the higher education package—savings which the Labor Party oppose. If Labor had their way there would have been no funding for NCRIS in 2015-16. That is Labor's legacy, and it is Labor's activity in opposition as well. Coming from Senator Carr, this is a rich question. Having cut CSIRO funding, having cut the Commercial Ready program for our innovative sector, Senator Carr has no credibility in this space.

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the comments by Nobel laureate Professor Brian Schmidt on Radio National this morning where he said, in relation to the NCRIS funding threat:

… this is not the way a grown up country behaves. It's very childish and it's having a profound impact on something that is going to increase the productivity of the nation.

Why is this government recklessly risking 1,700 jobs in the Australian research sector and undermining Australia's future productivity? (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:03): This year alone, we are spending $9,200 million in research, science and innovation. Let us just acknowledge that for a start. But let us also acknowledge that it is no secret that, if our higher education reforms do not pass, funds will not exist for NCRIS. So talk about childish behaviour is, in fact, a reflection on the Australian Labor Party, which is blocking those reforms which would allow the funding stream for NCRIS to proceed. The Labor Party wants the funding but not the savings, and that is why the Labor Party got this country into this hopeless mess of deficit and debt. That is what we are seeking to address. We do want to fund NCRIS, and that is why we want to make savings elsewhere to allow that to occur. (Time expired)

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that the NCRIS funding is not even in the higher education funding bill? Given we are now in the fourth week of 'good government', can the minister advise when the government will stop attempting to bully and blackmail the Senate crossbench by threatening to cut research funding if it does not get its way on its unfair and unnecessary higher education changes?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:05): If Senator Carr did not believe in bullying, he would support us with the Australian building and construction commission legislation that is currently before this chamber. So I say to Senator Carr: do not assert that we engage in the sort of behaviour that you and your backers engage in on a daily basis. The art we try to use is the art of persuasion, not the art of thuggery, not the art of bullying. It is sound, reasonable persuasion that is the art of this place.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator ABETZ: I know it is not the art of those that continually interject during question time, like the Leader of the Opposition, as she is doing right now. That is bullying behaviour, not sitting back to listen to what the actual arguments are.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator ABETZ: And she is at it again, continuing nonstop. (Time expired)